#MomentOfTruth: Documenting Hate And Harassment

#MomentofTruth shares real stories, to promote real healing.

Americans hoped that when the election was over, there would be a decrease in the rampant uncivil discourse unleashed during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign. Whether in person or online, interaction between differently-minded people reached a new level of vitriol.

After the Electoral College pronounced Donald Trump as the president-elect (Hillary Clinton continues to lead the popular vote by an ever-expanding number), numerous public and private episodes of bias have been recorded. Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, confirmed the following via e-mail:

"Since Donald Trump won the election we’ve seen an alarming number of hate-based incidents occur throughout the nation, some of which are no doubt stemming from Trump’s hate-filled campaign. We’ve collected more than 437 such incidents since the election, truly a frightening number.”

The organization Hollaback!, founded by Emily May, had been internally dialoguing for months on how to start the healing process.

Operating for a decade, Hollaback! has been working to change the equation for street harassment, by creating a model that underscores sharing experiences and taking back individual power.

Now they have spearheaded a campaign to record the escalation in post-election hatred by launching the Tumblr site #MomentofTruth.

The space creates a venue to submit narratives of personal experiences for those who have been a direct target, or witnessed hate or violence and tried to intervene. Uploaded stories detail verbal attacks by strangers in public, the bullying of a physically handicapped man, and women being shouted at with the favored epithet: “Liberal c**t/bitch/whore.”

I connected with May via e-mail, to get more back story on the evolution of the initiative.

“Hollaback! has always been rooted in the belief that story sharing is a unique and powerful tool for bringing people together,” May emphasized, adding that Hollaback! is “highlighting the ways in which some individual experiences are markers of larger, systemic problems. #MomentofTruth is operating under that same belief.”

 

"Moment of Truth came about after brainstorming how we could address the massive unveiling of racism, sexism, and hate that was brought forth during this election cycle. While we knew that the nation would have to undergo some healing process regardless of the election outcome, we also knew that in order to begin that path towards healing and bridging the divide, we had to sit in the discomfort of the moment and give voice to the pain that we were feeling.”

May referenced an article in the Atlantic by Eric Liu in which he notes that “a rush to reunion can entrench injustice.” Liu states, “You can’t easily get to reconciliation without truth.”

“We can't rush straight to healing,” May agrees. “We have to open up our wounds and take a look at who we are as a nation, in order to figure out what we want to become and how we can get there.”

“Hollaback! has always been rooted in the belief that story sharing is a unique and powerful tool for bringing people together,” May emphasized, adding that Hollaback! is “highlighting the ways in which some individual experiences are markers of larger, systemic problems. #MomentofTruth is operating under that same belief.”

Sixteen nonprofit organizations have joined with Hollaback! to combine forces and know-how to rally their respective supporters. “It is powerful, and speaks to the remarkable potential that we have for really effecting change," May said.

Partners include Rhize, Uplift, The UnSlut Project, Take Back the Tech, and WAM! (Women, Action and Media).

I spoke at length by telephone with Jamia Wilson, executive director of WAM! (of which I am a member), which promotes the need for “gender justice in media.”

Wilson defined the #MomentofTruth action on two levels. The first concerned the immediate issue of a spike in hate speech and on-the-ground occurrences of abuse.

“Self-definition is extremely important,” she said. “If we don’t do it, someone else will. It’s about witnessing and pushing back against hate. It’s talking about damage. It’s more important than ever that we are raising our voices and showing that we are not alone. We see you and we hear you.”

Beyond “the importance of collecting stories so that we can push at barriers to freedom of expression,” Wilson emphasized the need for an examination of “the media climate and the connection to the normalizing of harassment.” One of the cornerstones of WAM! is the amplification of stats that show how women and people of color have a limited voice in media.

We spoke specifically about Twitter, and the constant, aggressive attacks against women. (Note: Check out the Breitbart article headlined, “The Solution to Online 'Harassment' Is Simple: Women Should Log Off.”)

“Twitter is making changes,” Wilson said, “but we need to see more, and more rapidly. There needs to be greater transparency about accountability concerning suspensions for all users, including verified ones.”

On some of the new rules and options, like muting specific words, Wilson observed, “It’s muting egregious content, but not removing it. It’s still creating a toxic environment.”

In order to shift and “fully transform culture online,” Wilson called out the need for “systemic changes, not band-aid solutions.” This would encompass more diversity on the boards of social media companies, and “throughout staff and moderation leadership.”

I plan to share my story on the #MomentofTruth Tumblr, outlining the anti-Semitic rants directed at me after the Trump “win.” People from as far away as New Zealand and Hungary (as well as homegrown haters) used imagery that included “leading me to the ovens” and “measuring me for a cattle car.”

A friend suggested that I get off Twitter or make my stream private.

My response was: “I’m not going to hide.”

Thanks to #MomentofTruth, I know that others will have my back.

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